On Saturday, April 2, 2022, the University of North Carolina Tar Heels upset their arch-rival the Duke University Blue Devils 81-77. While this was a tough loss already for Duke, not winning a championship this year stung more than usual as their legendary head coach Mike Krzyzewski (Coach K) was retiring this year.
In Coach K’s 42 years coaching the Blue Devils, he won five March Madness tournaments, only second behind legendary UCLA coach John Wooden. His 105 tournament wins is the most any coach has won in the history of college basketball, making him one of the greatest of all time. During his time at Duke, he was also named Coach of the Year three times in 1989, 1992 and 1999.
Krzyzewski was born on Feb. 13, 1947, in Chicago, Illinois, where he became a basketball star. After high school, he went to school at the United States Military Academy at West Point, where he was a shooting guard for the Black Knights. After graduating, he joined the army as an officer from 1969 to 1974, and in 2005, he was presented with West Point’s Distinguished Graduate Award.
After leaving the service, he became an assistant under legendary coach Bobby Knight at Indiana University. There he was an assistant coach for one season before returning to his alma mater to take on the role of head coach. He coached there for five seasons before leaving to become the head coach at Duke.
Before Coach K arrived at Duke, the Blue Devils were nowhere near the powerhouse they became under his leadership. They had only made it to the final in the national tournament twice, losing both times in 1963 and 1978. While his first two years at Duke were filled with struggles, those quickly were forgotten as Duke promptly became a staple for the rest of his time coaching them. From 1996 to 2019, Duke only missed the tournament once. Under Coach K, Duke made it to nine finals, winning in 1991, 1992, 2001, 2010 and 2015.
Over his time at Duke, Coach K produced a record 68 players that were drafted into the NBA, including three first overall picks: Elton Brand in 1999, Kyrie Irving in 2011 and Zion Williamson in 2019. Another notable player in the NBA that Coach K coached is Boston Celtics star forward Jayson Tatum.
During his time at Duke, Coach K has not only successfully produced NBA players, but he has also produced many head coaches. Utah Jazz’s current head coach Quin Snyder, the University of Pittsburgh Panthers’ Jeff Capel, Harvard University’s Tommy Amaker and more have all worked under Coach K as assistants before becoming head coaches.
Along with his success at the collegiate level, he is also the most decorated coach in the international world of basketball. He was an assistant coach for the U.S. Olympic team in 1988 and the Dream Team in 1992, winning a gold medal in both years. He was named the national coach in 2005, and he coached the team to three consecutive gold medals in the 2008, 2012 and 2016 Olympics. After the 2016 Olympics, Coach K stepped down as the U.S. national team head coach.
Very few coaches in any sport have ever had Coach K’s impact on the basketball world. From helping Duke become a mainstay powerhouse to winning multiple gold medals at the Olympics, his impact on the sport can not be overstated. He’s developed some of the most talented basketball players ever to play, and without his impact at Duke and at the international level, basketball would be an entirely different sport.